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How Social Networking Can Help Neighbors During Disasters


Can social-networking sites be used by neighbors to help each other during disasters, as well as with more pedestrian issues the rest of the time?

NPR recently covered political scientist Daniel Aldrich's work looking at how neighbors help each other during disasters. From NPR:

Aldrich's findings show that ambulances and firetrucks and government aid are not the principal ways most people survive ... a disaster. Government interventions cannot bring neighborhoods back, and most emergency responders take far too long to get to the scene. Rather, it is the personal ties among members of a community that determine survival during a disaster, and recovery in its aftermath.

When Aldrich visited villages in India hit by the giant 2004 tsunami, he found that villagers who fared best after the disaster weren't those with the most money, or the most power. They were people who knew lots of other people -- the most socially connected individuals. In Japan, Aldrich found that firetrucks and ambulances didn't save the most lives after earthquakes. Neighbors did.

We watched this phenomenon on Front Porch Forum, an online community-building service, this spring when flood waters ravaged many Vermont communities and people rallied to help those who lived nearby.

Isolation or Benefits?

Meanwhile, Keith Hampton and his Pew colleagues ask: "Do [social-networking sites] isolate people and truncate their relationships? Or are there benefits associated with being connected to others in this way?"

20 Friends by relationship origin.jpg

In their fascinating report, they share several observations from their survey, among them: "In this Pew Internet sample, 79 percent of American adults said they used the Internet and nearly half of adults (47 percent) say they use at least one of the social-networking sites." The adults surveyed are using Facebook mostly to connect with people from their past -- high school, college, family. Facebook doesn't appear to be used much among current neighbors (see chart above), less than 2 percent in this survey.

Hampton's earlier work (an e-neighbors study and a previous Pew study) suggests that online social networking can indeed help neighbors connect. And Portia Krebs ofUSTelecom, the broadband association, reported this past week:

Consider this: 28 percent of Americans know none of their neighbors by name, and fewer than half of American adults know most or all of their neighbors. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, Americans who go online daily are more likely than non-Internet users to know some of their neighbors' names -- and 27 percent of Internet users said they used digital tools to talk to their neighbors and keep informed about community issues.

Front Porch Forum -- a neighborhood-based network serving small cities and towns -- gives registered users an opportunity to discuss everything from road repairs to the school budget. According to FPF, half of the residents of Burlington, Va., subscribe -- and an astonishing 90 percent of those users said their local civic engagement increased thanks to this online service.

Facebook works incredibly well to help connect old acquaintances. But it's not so good at helping neighbors find each other. Perhaps that's because Facebook is all software and no community management. The role of effective online community management is to bring diverse people together online in civil and constructive conversation. Venture capitalist Fred Wilson weighed in recently on this point:

Modern community building isn't easy but if there is one thing the Internet has taught me over the past 15 years, large engaged communities are incredible powerful things, both commercially and socially. Building them is important and ultimately very valuable work.


Amen! We're excited to see the dozens of online neighborhood forums that are bursting with activity on Front Porch Forum, and we look forward to expanding to more places in the near future. Check out our new web app.

Stop Yammering and Start Hammering: How to Build a 'Maker Space' for News


Over the next four weeks, a very interesting experiment is going to unfold. The most exciting part about it is that it’s entirely open source: You can observe it, interact with it, and improve it.


We’re calling this experiment the “learning lab.” It’s the second stage of the Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership, which kicked off in May with an online competition that solicited 300 news innovation ideas from people around the globe.

With the competition complete, it’s time put on our mad scientist lab coats and start mixing things up. Our aim is to find an antidote to “yammering” about the future of online news — instead, we want to start building that future today.

Let the experiment begin

At its core, the first learning lab sets out to:

  • Build an online “maker space”: Create a place where people can start hammering out software ideas that could be part of tomorrow’s online news experience.

  • Put our foot on the accelerator: Taking a cue from Mozilla’s Web FWD initiative, we want to dramatically speed up the process of taking ideas “from concept-to-code” by bringing smart people together with other intelligent folks.

  • Demonstrate how to “work open”: Actually showing how the idea of working quickly, iteratively, and in the open can lead to better ideas, improved software and collaboration.

Into the glass beakers and test tubes, we are also going to mix:

Put on your lab coat and help make something

One of the most valuable parts of the Knight-Mozilla partnership is the community that is growing around it — well over 500 people at last count. Bringing that community into the lab is something that we’re striving to do — but we could really use your help here.

Here are just a few of the ways that you can jump in:

Each week we’ll also be profiling the best thinking from the lab on Planet Mojo. We’ll also be posting the lectures — three each week — to the P2PU course page, so you can follow along at home.

We’re working hard to create a MakerCulture in the news production, reporting, and journalism space — so, why don’t you put on your mad scientist lab coat too? All you have to do is suspend your disbelief for the next four weeks, commit to put no limits on your imagination, then pick up a hammer and start hammering.

Web Video Chat Comes Of Age With Hangouts on Google+ and Skype on Facebook


microsoft-lifecam-twinpackIt wasn’t long ago when the idea of chatting face to face with video was considered futuristic and pie in the sky thinking. But now many of us do it on a regular basis with people all over the world. For free. Let’s not forget how amazing these times we live in are.

Web Video Chat

It has been possible to chat via the Internet using webcams for years thanks to services such as Skype, Google Talk, MSN Messenger, and Yahoo! Messenger. But in many ways it’s only this week that the idea has come of age.

This is due to a couple of new services in the form of Hangouts on Google+ and Skype on Facebook. Both of which bring new features and easy-to-use video chat into the mainstream.

Google+ Hangouts

Google+ is a new integrated social network from Google currently in beta testing. And one of its many features is Hangouts, a simple-to-use video chat service which can be used for one-on-one chats or for groups of people of up to 10 at a time to come and go.

The group video chat element works exceptionally well and will be recognizable to anyone who uses other Google products. The one-on-one element isn’t quite so accomplished, but luckily for us there is an alternative.

Skype On Facebook

Skype video chat has now been integrated into Facebook, showing up as an option right on the homepage and one your friends’ profiles. This comes after Microsoft acquired Skype, and it clearly wants to make it pay by placing it on the biggest site in the world.

Skype already offers group chat, but it isn’t free, requiring one user to be a premium service subscriber. This means that Skype on Facebook only caters to one-on-one video chats, but it does so with ultimate ease. You can now chat with any of your Facebook friends without any kind of effort.


Google+ Hangouts and Skype on Facebook offer different experiences and will cater to different needs. The former is great for group video chats, the latter for instantly connecting with friends on a one-on-one basis. Both are good additions to a bustling sector.

Would placing solar panels on MTR land provide Ky.'s energy needs?

I was reading an article recently about mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining and got to thinking.... 

How many square miles have been cleared in Kentucky for MTR? 

And, if we covered all that space with photovoltaic (PV) solar panels, how much electricity in kilowatt-hours (kWh) would be produced? 

Would it be enough to match the electricity consumed in Kentucky each year? 

What about MTR in the U.S.? 

If we covered all the square miles that have been cleared for MTR in the U.S. with PV solar panels, what percentage of the national annual kWh consumption could be provided?

I decided to crunch the numbers and what I discovered was quite intriguing...

According to the Appalachian Voices website [1] (a non-profit committed to protecting the land, air and water of the central and southern Appalachian region), 574,000 acres (897 square miles) of land in Kentucky has been surface mined for coal and more than 293 mountains have been severely impacted or destroyed by MTR coal mining.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy website [2], the total electricity consumption in Kentucky (residential, commercial, and industrial) in 2005 was 89,351,000,000 kWh. 

The following projection is based on experience from PV solar installations already in place here in Kentucky and from the fact that we get four and a half hours of sunlight per day on average, accounting for clouds. To produce that much electricity in one year from PV solar panels in this region, around 190 square miles of land would need to be covered by a 69.1 GW (gigawatt) solar array. And, 897 square miles of land has been has been flattened by MTR. Therefore, if we merely put PV solar panels on 1/5th of our already cleared land, we would supply ALL of the electricity needs for the entire Commonwealth of Kentucky!

If we covered the entire 897 square miles of cleared MTR space in Kentucky, we could supply nearly 10% of the electricity needs of the entire U.S.! 

Additionally, according to Appalachian Voices website [1], a total of 1,160,000 acres (1,813 square miles) of land has been surface mined for coal in the central and southern Appalachian region. 

According to the Central Intelligence Agency website [3], the United States consumed a total of 3.873 trillion kWh of electricity in 2008. 

To produce that much electricity in one year from PV solar panels in this region, 8,225 square miles of land would need to be covered. Accordingly, roughly 22% of the electricity consumed in America could be provided by PV solar panels if the 1,813 square miles of land cleared by MTR in Appalachia were covered. 

At this point, you're probably asking yourself: that's great, but how much would it cost? And, what about energy storage so we can use that electricity at night?

I'll admit that projecting the costs for a solar array of this size if pure conjecture, but I'll do my best. 

Currently, large scale, megawatt PV solar panel arrays cost around $3 per watt to install without tax subsidies. A GW scale solar array might be closer to $2 per watt installed. Using this metric, it would cost about $138 billion to install the 69.1 GW solar array required to produce 100% of the electricity consumed in Kentucky per year. If the solar panels have the industry standard 25-year warranty, the cost of electricity comes to 6.2 cents per kWh. That's cheaper than what consumers in Kentucky pay for electricity right now (e.g. LG&E residential customers pay 7.9 cents/kWh).

There are many options available now for grid level energy storage, including, but not limited to: pumped hydro, compressed air energy storage (CAES), sodium-sulfur batteries, lead acid batteries, nickel-cadmium batteries, flywheels, and lithium ion batteries. 

Empty, abandoned coal mines in Germany are being looked at for pumped hydro energy storage for renewable energy systems [5]. Something I would assume we have plenty of in Kentucky. 

Adding energy storage could cost around $1 per watt to the solar array [6]. This would increase the cost of the array for Kentucky to $207 billion with an electricity cost of around 9.3 cents per kWh. That price per kWh is a little above what LG&E customers are paying right now, but will soon be on par with current rates as LG&E recently requested the Kentucky Public Service Commission to allow rates to increase by 19 percent over the next five years.

Again, the cost projection is all conjecture and does not include grid transmission and maintenance. But it's a start. 

This sounds like a lot of money until you consider that, according to a study by the Environmental Law Institute [4], the fossil fuel industry in the U.S. received $72 billion in subsidies from 2002 to 2008. Imagine using that money to fund a GW solar project in Kentucky!

Here's some proof that solar does work here, some public viewing of our solar installation's real-time and historical electricity production:

Highlands, Louisville, KY:

Radcliff, KY

Frankfort, KY

By Dan Hofmann

About the author: Dan Hofmann is President of RegenEn Solar LLC (, a solar panel installation company located in Louisville, KY.

Project will lead to the creation of 600 manufacturing and construction jobs in Ohio;

COLUMBUS, Ohio, July 5, 2011 – AEP Ohio, a unit of American Electric Power (NYSE: AEP), has entered into a participation agreement with Turning Point Solar LLC, a joint venture of Agile Energy Inc. and New Harvest Ventures, to cooperate on the development of one of the largest solar generating facility east of the Mississippi River.

The 49.9-megawatt (MW) commercial solar facility will be built on approximately 750 acres of reclaimed land once mined for coal in Noble County, 20 miles southeast of Zanesville, Ohio. Construction and commercial operation of the facility will be phased in over three years with construction expected to begin in the summer of 2012 and finishing in 2015.

“When we originally announced this project last year, we were proud to play an instrumental role in helping bring new jobs to Ohio while advancing renewable energy technologies in the Midwest,” said Joe Hamrock, president and chief operating officer for AEP Ohio. “Today, that pride continues as we move a significant step closer to bringing this project on line. Taking the lead on these types of projects not only allows AEP Ohio to meet the state’s renewable energy requirements, it also benefits Ohio through new development, job creation and economic growth.”

According to Glen Davis, CEO of Agile Energy of San Francisco, one of the co-developers of the project, more than 600 direct jobs will be created, including approximately 300 during the construction and installation phase of the project.

Isofoton, a leading Spanish-based solar energy technology company, will supply solar modules for the Turning Point Solar development. As part of the project moving forward, the company has agreed to base its North American manufacturing facility in Ohio, and projects the facility will employ up to 330 when fully operational. Approximately 250,000 photovoltaic panels will be needed to build the plant.

In October 2010, AEP Ohio and Turning Point Solar entered into a memorandum of understanding. The agreement announced today formalizes the parties’ intentions to work toward the successful completion of what will be Ohio’s largest solar installation using solar modules made in Ohio. AEP Ohio intends to invest $20 million in the development of the project. The project was filed with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio for approval on Friday, July 1, as part of the company’s Electric Security Plan. Once built, AEP Ohio will be solely responsible for the operation and maintenance of the solar generating facility.

Ohio Substitute Senate Bill 221 requires that AEP Ohio supply 0.06 percent of its load in 2012 with generation from solar resources, 0.09 percent in 2013, and 0.12 percent in 2014. The benchmark requirements ramp up annually to a total of 0.5 percent by the end of 2024. AEP Ohio already has met the benchmarks set for 2010 and 2011 through its long-term purchase power agreement for solar energy from the 10.08-MW Wyandot Solar facility in Upper Sandusky, Ohio.

AEP Ohio provides electricity to nearly 1.5 million customers of major AEP subsidiaries Columbus Southern Power Company and Ohio Power Company in Ohio, and Wheeling Power Company in the northern panhandle of West Virginia. AEP Ohio is based in Gahanna, Ohio, and is a unit of American Electric Power. News and information about AEP Ohio can be found at